"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Monday, August 16, 2010

Craig Latham: My Time at the Wall

This memory comes to us from someone who has become my friend. We grew up in the same home town, yet only got to know each other recently through the pages of Facebook. He's helped me realize something very important today -- I began this blog wanting to reach out with my heart to Vietnam Veterans, and what I've discovered is, you've reached out with yours and touched mine. Please welcome a personal memory from my friend, Craig Latham:

My Time At The Wall
by Craig Latham

It had been twenty-five years since I left Vietnam. My brother-in-law and I had just finished a weekend at Bristol, Tennesee, where we watched our first Nascar race in person. We still had to go to Virginia Beach for a couple of days and then on to Washington D.C.

We arrived at the wall just about 6am as the sun was coming up. It was gonna be another hot day in August. This is when I realized it had been exactly twenty-five years to the day that I left the hot sun of Vietnam and boarded the "Freedom Bird" home. The heat in the United States was nothing, compared to the humid heat of the jungle. Sometimes you would sit in the sun to cool off because you were constantly hot and wet in the jungle.

Anyway, back to D.C. We got to the wall just as the sun was coming up and only one other couple was there. They had been there many times before. He had made this pilgrimage there every year for the past ten years. He told us it was part of his healing process. I asked him what he did in Vietnam and he said he had been a "grunt". We chatted for a few minutes, "Welcomed" each other home, and then he told us how to find what we were looking for.

My brother-in-law, Bob, had been in Vietnam about two years before me. I looked down the shiny black wall and noticed Bob was down on one knee. I didn't know if he was praying, crying, or a little bit of both. I didn't ask. This was his private time with someone he knew a long time ago.

I had a list of names of people I wanted to look up, too. Most were people from my home county (Coshocton, Ohio). I found them all, and made etchings of each. They had all been in Vietnam before me. Some were "Grunts", "Medic", "Crew Chief", "Door Gunner", and "Pilots".

The last one I looked for was my friend Andy B. He had been a "Door Gunner" for the 2nd Brigade Hq. in the 101St Airborne Division (Ambl) in Phu Bai, S. Vietnam. Andy was short, (not in stature, but in time left in Vietnam). He and his pilot were on their way back to Phu Bai when they heard a unit in trouble and went to see if they could be of any help. They were shot down. Both killed. Andy and I were gonna have a couple of beers that evening when he got back, but I drank alone that night. The next day, I had to go out with an infantry unit and wouldn't get back to Phu Bai for a week. I missed his "Memorial Service". I felt bad.

I had my own "Memorial Service" for Andy that day at the wall. Something happened that day. I found Andy's name on the wall and as I reached out to touch his name, all I could see was a hand (actually my reflection) coming at me from the blackness. As I touched the "Wall" and the hand, it felt as if something was stripped from my body. A weight of twenty-five years was gone. It was as if the hand belonged to Andy and he was saying, "It's over now. It's time to let go." That day, something happened. From that day forward, the night sweats slowly subsided. The waking up in the middle of the night screaming, stopped.

"The Wall" has healing powers and no one can tell me any different.

The ride home from D.C. with my brother-in-law was a quiet one. Each of us was reflecting on our past, present and probably our future.

Welcome home, all "Vietnam Veterans".

Craig Latham
Combat Writer/Photographer
34th Public Information Detachment (34th PID)
2nd Brigade/101st Airborne Division (Ambl)
Phu Bai, S. Vietnam

Proud to be an American

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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  1. Craig, you brought tears to my eyes with your rememberances of touching the wall. My son went and did the same. That was 4 years ago and he was only 14. He felt the same way when touching the wall and he has known only one Vietnam Vet and doesn't even care for the guy. So, I believe you and he said the same about touching it. He described it as a force going through you as soon as you touch a name on the wall, you feel like you knew that person or someone there. And that force makes people, even the hardest of hearts break down and weep. I am looking forward to my opportunity to go touch it myself. I had two neighbors while I was little who lost their lives in Vietnam and I would like to find them.

  2. Jan Hoffman (from Facebook page)
    VERY Moving!
    I HAD to SHARE this on my own Facebook page!

  3. Craig....
    thank you for sharing....so much more than your finely crafted words...but your heart and soul...thank you, dear one.....for all those years of war......and......peace....with love....another coshocton gal.....

  4. CJ Heck
    Thank you for sharing your memory today, Craig. You've touched a lot of hearts, mine included. Very well done -- your writing is exceptional, my friend. Hugs from me, CJ

    Cindy Sampsel (from Facebook page)
    Hey Craig, I agree with CJ, and want to Thank you for serving and for writing. I have a Bro that was there and what was written hit home. You did very good job writing it.

  5. Richard Schwartz Craig (from Facebook page)
    Nice story! I saw the wall about 10 years after my return. I saw Dan Hively's name and unexpectedly started crying like a little kid.


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